French revolutionary cards

[French court cards, c.1500]

At the beginning, French court cards were full length figures labelled as particular heroes and heroines from Scripture, history and fable. When the French Revolution toppled the real monarchy, kings and queens were also deposed from playing cards. However, French cardmakers did not destroy their old designs for court cards; the manufacturers merely removed the crowns from the card figures and labelled them as democratic allegories such as "Liberty" and "Equality". When the French later accepted Napoleon as emperor, royalty was back in fashion. Kings and Queens were restored to French playing cards. Napoleon, however, did not approve of the medieval look of traditional playing cards. He felt that the card kings should be archaeologically correct. Accordingly, he commissioned a prominent artist, J.L. David, to revise the Kings with authentic costumes and to supply historically appropriate companions in the Queens and Jacks. Card players rejected these innovations, demanding the court cards that had become standard over the centuries. Napoleon relented and allowed production of the old fashioned court figures. Many novel decks are known to historians, but players have always preferred the familiar card faces.

French court cards (Kings), c 1500 (from Merlin, Origine des cartes à jouer)


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